Over the last few months, some half a dozen people have asked me how to read the Bible. Some have been in churches for decades, others have barely been in churches at all, but they are united by one thing: They want to read the Bible for themselves – but they have experienced the Bible as an instrument of control in the past, and so they are afraid.
My most significant teacher gets very angry with religious leaders who use Scripture to tie up heavy loads and place them on people’s shoulders, and who do not lift a finger to help; who seek wealth, power and status for themselves; and who block people’s access to the joyful and liberating kingdom-culture of heaven (Matthew 23).
But to the fearful, he says, “Don’t be afraid”; and to the heavily burdened, he says “Come to me, all you who are weary, and I will give you rest; take my yoke upon me and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). I invite you, then, to lay aside your fear, and read Scripture in the company of this gentle, loving, humble and wise man, for it is with him at your side that you will find rest for your souls.
So … to lectio divina, which simply means “divine reading.” This ancient method approaches the Bible not as a text to be analysed, but as a conversation to be entered into between God and God’s people—including you! The aim is not information, but communion with Christ, and so this way of reading is done slowly, prayerfully, and from a state of grace. There are four steps, but they are not fixed; move between them as you are led.
Begin by taking a moment to prepare. Ask the Holy Spirit to “lead you into all truth” (John 16:13). You might also find it helpful to intentionally recall a time in your life when you felt touched by the peace of the Holy Spirit. Prepare to read and listen to the Bible out of this space.
LECTIO: Read: Now read the passage slowly, several times, aloud if possible. Get a sense of what the passage is saying. Notice any word or phrase which stands out (surprises you, shocks you, makes you smile or weep, or feels like direct speech).
MEDITATIO: Meditate: Meditate on the passage. You might imagine yourself into the story, inhabiting and reflecting on different characters, but always focusing on Jesus Christ. You might ask questions in prayer about the passage, and listen for an answer. You might reflect on how the passage speaks into your own life with words of promise, encouragement, comfort or challenge.
ORATIO: Pray: Reflecting on what has just been spoken into your life, pray. Talk with God, and listen for anything else God might want to communicate with you. You might also feel called to respond in action. If so, tell God what you feel called to do, and ask for God’s guidance and help.
CONTEMPLATIO: Contemplate: Words have their limits. It is time now for silence as you simply rest in the Living Word, who loves you. Rest, and savour this precious time.
Many people find it useful to journal as they read and reflect. You might write down any encouragement or insights; anything which feels like direct speech; anything which brings you to tears; or anything you learn about yourself or God through your prayerful reading. Or you might draw about the passage, or your experience of it, or your response to it. Or you might journal in other ways.
So that’s lectio divina in a nutshell. I hope this method helps ease some of your fear as you crack open God’s Word, listen to God, rest in God’s love, and experience the profound peace and healing that being in God’s presence brings.
Peace be with you,
PS: Lent is looming, and I’ve just uploaded a Lenten reading plan here! Take a look, start thinking about what you would like to contribute to this year’s Lenten reflections, then drop me a line when you have picked a theme.